The stories of Christian martyrdom fascinate me in part, I think, because it is nearly impossible to imagine such things happening in my own time and place – 21st century America. Also, they strike a nerve that causes me to question how exactly it is that I know what I truly believe religiously. It is one thing to recite the Nicene creed every Sunday. It is quite another to willingly die for the propositions laid out therein. The martyrs, as early Christians quickly recognized, deserve our veneration and thanksgiving to God for their faithful witness.
From The Proper for Lesser Feasts and Fasts:
Agnes is a Christian martyr who died at Rome around 304 in the persecution of Diocletian: the last and fiercest of the persecutions of Christianity by the Roman emperors. The anniversary of her martyrdom is observed on 21 January. Her name means “pure” in Greek and “lamb” in Latin. She is said to have been only about twelve or thirteen when she died, and the remains preserved in St Agnes’ Church in Rome are in agreement with this. It is said that her execution shocked many Romans and helped bring an end to the persecutions.
Some said, “It is contrary to Roman law to put a virgin to death. Our leaders say that it is necessary to kill Christians in order to preserve the old Roman ways: but they are themselves scorning those ways in the process.” Others said, “Do young girls constitute such a threat to Rome that it is necessary to kill them?” Others said, “If this religion can enable a twelve-year-old girl to meet death without fear, it is worth checking out.”
Almighty and everlasting God, who choose those whom the world deems powerless to put the powerful to shame: Grant us so to cherish the memory of your youthful martyr Agnes, that we may share her pure and steadfast faith in you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.